Documentary Captures the Lives of Midwives in Southern Ethiopia

1/29/2014 10:18:00 AM

Reducing maternal mortality in poor and middle-income countries where the numbers are the highest is still one of the greatest challenges in global health. Currently 800 women die each day from complications during childbirth. Even though that number has been drastically reduced since 1990 the numbers are not dropping quickly enough to successfully reach Millennium Development Goal 5 that calls for a reduction in maternal mortality by 2015. In fact, according to the World Health Organization, the current maternal mortality rate would need to decrease by double in order to reach the maternal health goals set forth in 2000.

Photo © Paolo Patruno 

One person who has dedicated his creative work to showing the critical need for scaled up maternal health services and programs in sub-Saharan Africa through multimedia is Paolo Patruno, an Italian photographer and documentarian who travels throughout the continent documenting births. I wrote about his work here on Impatient Optimists in 2012 in Q & A: Humanitarian Photographer Documents Maternity Crisis in sub-Saharan Africa. Since then Patruno has continued to document the realities of birth in Africa – some with happy endings and some without. Recently he partnered with AMREF to feature their Stand Up for African Mothers program that has set a goal of training 15,000 midwives throughout sub-Saharan Africa by 2015. Thus far, over 5,000 midwives have been trained.

 A healthy Africa needs healthy mothers, and African mothers need African midwives.Dr. Teguest Guerman, Director General of AMREF“Maternal mortality and maternal and newborn health is an untold matter," said Patruno. “That's why since 2011 I’m running my long term documentary project "BIRTH IS A DREAM" which aims to document and raise awareness about maternal health in sub-Saharan Africa.” “I WANT TO BE A MIDWIFE” is a new story I produced documenting AMREF Canada's program to improve maternal and child health in Ethiopia, to tell how midwives are women and mothers who have devoted their lives to providing safe motherhood to other women and mothers."

Working in Jinka last year Patruno created the short documentary “I WANT TO BE A MIDWIFE” about the lives of women who work in health facilities to provide antenatal care to expectant mothers and to aid in delivering their babies. Midwives are particularly important in Ethiopia where over 90 percent of women deliver their babies at home due to traditional and cultural norms, distance from a health facility, and cost. In South Omo where the primary population is pastoralists, there are only three doctors and one hospital for the entire zone accounting for a half million people. AMREF Canada is working to train and increase the numbers of frontline health workers who can help save women’s lives who live in this rural, southern region of Ethiopia. With every loss of a mother an entire family and community suffers. According to AMREF, one trained midwife can effectively provide care for 500 expectant mothers and safely deliver 100 babies per year.

One trained midwife can effectively provide care for 500 expectant mothers and safely deliver 100 babies per year. "African women are at the center of the social and economic development chain," said Dr. Teguest Guerman, Director General of AMREF. "The death of a mother while giving birth is a big setback for African society. Through the training of more midwives, AMREF is helping to deliver an immediate, sustainable solution. A healthy Africa needs healthy mothers, and African mothers need African midwives."

See the entire collection of photos from Paolo Patruno's work in Ethiopia in his MIDWIVES SAVE LIVES photo gallery. You can also follow his work on Facebook at

blog comments powered by Disqus